THE DEFENDING CHAMPION LIBERTY WILL GET RESISTANCE FROM THE ROCKERS
East Meets Best
By Rob Peterson
For the last two seasons, the Eastern Conference has been the land of Liberty.
New York has dominated east of the mighty Mississippi, finishing first in the regular season and winning the conference title for two consecutive campaigns. The Liberty have the conference's most recognizable stars and play in what is billed as "The World's Most Famous Arena." It's been said if you can make it New York, you can make it anywhere.
But make no mistake, the Cleveland Rockers are no joke. Need proof? They rousted the four-time WNBA champion Houston Comets by 10 in Houston on July 8. Need more? The Rockers, still smarting from their Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Liberty, dispatched the defending conference champs by 18 at the Gund in their first meeting June 7.
Deep, talented and with a taste for defense, the Rockers have proved to be a compelling challenger to the perennially powerful Liberty. The race between the Liberty and the Rockers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference looks to be one of the tightest in WNBA history.
It won't be easy for either squad. The Rockers treat their Gund Arena guests rudely. They have dispatched all seven opponents they have met there. The Liberty, meanwhile, show little forgiveness. They're 9-0 when they lead at halftime.
Cleveland and New York meet twice more before the playoffs begin in late August. If their second-half performances mirror their first, WNBA fans should brace themselves for quite a race.
Here are our team and individual Eastern Conference highlights from the first half of the season.
1. Washington's four-overtime win in Seattle
WNBA games consist of 20 minute halves and approximately take two hours to complete in real time. When the Mystics finally closed out a 72-69 FOUR-overtime win over the Storm, two hours and 48 minutes had passed from opening tip to final buzzer in the longest game in WNBA history. Fans in Seattle were treated, in essence, with an extra half of basketball, although they weren't treated with a victory.
The game's brightest light was Washington's Helen Luz. She scored eight of her 11 points in the fourth overtime. In fact, the Mystics scored 15 points in the second half. They scored 22 points in the four overtimes.
2. Jae Kingi's 25-point outburst
Detroit's Jae Kingi, a rookie from Australia, lived up to her team's nickname. Kingi shocked the Phoenix Mercury with 25 points June 29. Until that game, Kingi scored 19 points total in the season.
The Shock needed every single point from Kingi, as they fought back from an 15-point deficit to defeat Phoenix 75-71.
3. Holdsclaw's 31-points, 13-rebound game
Holdsclaw scored 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Mystics' 81-80 defeat to the New York Liberty on June 10. Holdsclaw scored 11 points in an 18-2 run that brought the Mystics within one at 79-78. Alas, Holdsclaw's numbers may have been more impressive and the outcome different if she hadn't been 6-of-14 from the foul line.
4. Cleveland's 7-0 record at home
You could even say the Rockers remove much of the opposition's offensive dignity. They have Runned-and-Gund their way to a 13.3 average margin of victory at home and have scored eight-points more per game at home than on the road.
Another reason to be afraid? The Rockers begin a five-game home stand July 13.
5. Liberty's 9-0 record when leading at the half
Nine times they have led at the half, nine times they've notched a W. They Liberty also seem to get stronger as the game goes on. Just ask the Orlando Miracle. Tied at 60-60, the Liberty scored 12 consecutive points to defeat the Miracle 72-60 June 30.
Special Mention -- Clintons at Liberty-Shock game, July 2
It's not often you get a senator and two presidents at a WNBA game. Yet, on July 2, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton attended the New York Liberty-Detroit Shock contest at Madison Square Garden with WNBA President Val Ackerman.
Sen. Clinton presented a check at halftime on behalf of the New York Liberty and Cablevision to a local fellowship program.
Single-game High Scorers
Single-game High Rebounders